Dysphagia (Feeding and Swallowing)

Dysphagia is the term used to describe mechanical problems with eating, drink and swallowing. Difficulties can arise from neurological or physical impairment in the mouth, throat or upper food pipe.

Signs of dysphagia can include: coughing or choking when eating or drinking, food or drink going down the wrong way causing changes in breathing or chest infections, food / drink spillage from the lips, bringing food back up – sometimes down the nose, food sticking in the throat, meals taking a long time to finish.

Over time, dysphagia can also cause symptoms such as weight loss and repeated chest infections.

Speech and Language Therapists will see babies, infants and children who have eating, drinking and/or swallowing problems – this might be as a result of being premature, or because of physical or mechanical feeding difficulties. We will see babies and children who:

  • Are at risk of aspirating, e.g. food or drink going down the wrong way into their lungs
  • Who have a history of repeated chest infections/pneumonia which is caused by swallowing difficulties
  • Are preterm or a baby with a neurological problem/medical condition associated with feeding difficulties, e.g. Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy
  • Are being weaned off a feeding tube
  • Have a tracheostomy tube
  • Have problems with food and drink when it is in their mouth or throat

Guidance and helpful information

Referrals for this service must be made by your child’s Paediatrician, Dietician, Community Children’s Nurse, Ward Nurse, Special School Nurse or Speech and Language Therapist.

Please note we do not provide a service for children who have feeding difficulties as a result of an Autistic Spectrum Disorder, children with just sensory and/or behavioural issues affecting their eating and drinking or children who are ‘fussy’ eaters, toddlers/children who refuse to eat lumpy/chewy foods or for children generally refusing to eat.

What happens next?

Once the request for service has been accepted, you will be notified and sent an appointment.

URGENT requests will be seen as follows:

  • Inpatient referrals – within 2 working days
  • Outpatient referrals – within 5 working days

NON URGENT requests will be seen as follows:

  • Inpatient referrals – within 5 working days
  • Outpatient referrals – within 1 month

If you are looking for more information on infant feeding or breastfeeding, please click here.

What is the process?

Who you might see

Speech and Language Therapists offer support to children and young people from birth to 18 years where communication and swallowing difficulties are impacting on their ability to fully participate in daily life.


We see children and young people as inpatients on the Neonatal Unit and Bramble Ward at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, at Honeylands Specialist Children’s Assessment Centre and at home or in nursery/school. We also see children and young people at the Videofluoroscopy (swallow x-ray) X-Ray department at the RD&E Hospital.


Children and Family Health Devon
Single Point of Access Team
1a Capital Court
Bittern Road
Sowton Industrial Estate
Exeter EX2 7FW

t: 0330 0245 321